“To use progesterone cream effectively, apply it to a fatty area of the body. But don’t overdo it; too much progesterone can harm your chances of conceiving.Stockbyte/Thinkstock
It’s no secret that hormones play a major role in both the female and male reproductive systems. But one in particular — progesterone — is known as the "hormone of pregnancy" because of its part in regulating menstruation and ovulation [sources: Bowen; MSN]. If a woman has abnormally low levels of progesterone, it may be difficult — even impossible — for her to become pregnant. Adequate levels, on the other hand, can help a fertilized egg survive.
Fortunately, there are ways to increase progesterone. But first you will want to have a doctor test your current levels to ensure there really is a shortage of the hormone. If low progesterone is determined to be a probable culprit of your infertility, your doctor may prescribe progesterone.
Synthetic progesterone, known as progestogen, is available in many formulations, including pills, gels and suppositories. But because progestogen is associated with numerous side effects, some women opt to take a bioidentical version of natural progesterone, which is normally offered in an over-the-counter (OTC) skin cream.
There is a debate as to how effective natural progesterone cream is at promoting fertility. Experts doubt that creams absorb into the skin well enough to get into the system [source: Jelovsek]. Some, on the other hand, worry that natural progesterone creams allow too much of the hormone into the body [source: Hermann, et. al]. In addition, OTC formulations aren’t pharmaceutical grade or FDA regulated [source: DiLeo].
Despite some misgivings among the medical community, there are fertility clinics that recommend natural progesterone cream for certain patients. And, ideally, the cream — although OTC — should be used only with guidance of a physician.
On the next page, learn more about how natural progesterone can lead to conception.
- Using Natural Progesterone for Conception
- Understanding the Effect of Low Progesterone
- Understanding the Effect of High Progesterone
Using Natural Progesterone for Conception
There’s a popular assumption that replacement hormones should be used at the first hint of infertility. In reality, fertility doctors take a more measured approach in treating patients who are having trouble getting pregnant. For starters, the probable cause of a woman’s infertility is thoroughly investigated before a treatment is prescribed. This is because too much of certain hormones, like progesterone, can have undesired effects — like making pregnancy even less likely.
So, before taking natural progesterone as a conception aid, have your progesterone levels tested. If it’s determined that you have low progesterone, your doctor might recommend prescription progesterone. If he or she doesn’t, then you can ask about natural progesterone cream.
Natural progesterone cream can be found at many health food stores and pharmacies. Look for creams that contain no ingredients other than progesterone, and be warned that Mexican wild yam cream is not a progesterone substitute.
To use progesterone cream effectively, apply around a 1/4 teaspoon (1.2 milliliters) to a fatty area of the body, such as the stomach, breasts or thighs. You should alternate where you put each dose. And don’t overdo it; excess progesterone will only harm your chances of conceiving.
Knowing when to apply natural progesterone cream during your cycle can be tricky. Increasing your progesterone at the wrong time of the month could also work against your ability to get pregnant. This is yet another reason you should consult with a doctor when using the cream.
If you’re looking to increase overall progesterone in your body without a cream or prescription, take more magnesium or vitamin B6 [source: Kittel]. Again, just make sure you check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any supplements as they can have side effects or interact with other drugs and supplements.
Keep reading to find out just how low progesterone impacts your body and, more specifically, your ability to get pregnant.
I Yam Not Progesterone
Despite marketing claims to the contrary, Mexican wild yam cream neither contains progesterone nor converts into progesterone in the body [source: WebMD].
Understanding the Effect of Low Progesterone
A healthy reproductive system is a well-tuned machine in which multiple organs and processes work together to create ideal environments for conception and pregnancy. When any part of this system fails or doesn’t live up to its ideal role, infertility can occur. The progesterone hormone is one of many reproductive "workers" in the body that can prevent fertility if it’s not up for the job.
For example, progesterone is supposed to prepare the endometrium – the inner lining of the uterus — for receiving a fertilized egg. If it doesn’t, the egg will not implant, and the endometrium will continue toward the process of menstruation.
The progesterone hormone also counteracts the negative consequences of unchecked estrogen [source: Project Aware]. So some of the effects of low progesterone in the body are similar to those of high estrogen levels:
- anxiety and mood swings
- tender breasts
- uterine fibroids
- irregular or heavy periods
Of course, low progesterone isn’t the only imbalance that can cause problems in a woman’s body. High progesterone can also lead to fertility and health issues. We’ll discuss that next.
Understanding the Effect of High Progesterone
If you’re trying to get pregnant, you might think a lot of progesterone is just what you need. But too much of it can be just as detrimental to your pregnancy chances as too little because it can actually act as a contraceptive [source: Kittel].
And it’s not just long-term high progesterone that’s problematic. A one-time boost of progesterone into a body with normal levels can upset the process of conception by pushing the endometrium into sloughing and, thus, causing menstruation to begin [source: Jelovsek].
Other effects of high progesterone include tiredness, vaginal dryness, high insulin levels, decreased insulin sensitivity, weight gain, reduced sex drive and depression.
As you can see, tinkering with hormone levels is complicated and only advisable when a legitimate imbalance is present. To ensure you aren’t exacerbating your infertility, see a specialist for guidelines on regulating progesterone levels — if it’s even needed at all.
To read about other fertility issues, check out the next page for lots more information.
Not a Women-only Hormone
While progesterone is a major player in the female reproductive system, it’s also present in males in small amounts [source: Body Logic].
Lots More Information
- Understanding the Conception Process
- 10 Common Myths About Getting Pregnant
- When are you most fertile?
- American Pregnancy Association. "Infertility Medications." February 2012. (June 18, 2012) http://www.americanpregnancy.org/infertility/infertilitymedications.html
- Body Logic. "Progesterone Levels in Men." (June 18, 2012) http://www.bodylogicmd.com/hormones-for-men/progesterone
- Bowen, R. "Placental Hormones." Colorado State University. Aug. 6, 2000. (June 18, 2012) http://www.vivo.colostate.edu/hbooks/pathphys/reprod/placenta/endocrine.html
- Conrad, Christine. "A Woman’s Guide to Natural Hormones." Penguin. Dec. 6, 2005. (June 18, 2012) http://books.google.com/books?id=-kw3AgBiSqIC&dq=a+woman’s+guide+to+natural+hormones&source=gbs_navlinks_s
- DiLeo, Gerard M. "Q&A: Can I purchase over-the-counter progesterone cream?" Baby Zone. (June 18, 2012) http://www.babyzone.com/getting-pregnant/infertility/progesterone-cream-infertility_79323
- Drugs.com. "Progesterone." June 24, 2010. (June 18, 2012) http://www.drugs.com/progesterone.html
- Healthy Women. "Progesterone." Oct. 10, 2011. (June 18, 2012) http://www.healthywomen.org/condition/progesterone
- Hermann, Anne C; Nafziger, Anne N; Victory, Jennifer; Kulawy, Robert; Rocci, Mario L; and Joseph S. Bertino. "Over-the-Counter Progesterone Cream Produces Significant Drug Exposure Compared to a Food and Drug Administration–Approved Oral Progesterone Product." The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology. June 2005. (June 18, 2012) http://jcp.sagepub.com/content/45/6/614.abstract
- Jackson, Rosalind. "Progesterone Creams." HowStuffWorks. (June 18, 2012) https://tlc.howstuffworks.com/family/progesterone-cream.htm
- Jelovsek, Frederick R. "Progesterone, Its Uses and Effects." Women’s Health. (June 18, 2012) http://www.wdxcyber.com/nmood11.htm
- Kittel, Mary. "Everything You Need to Know to Get Pregnant Now — Or Whenever You’re Ready." Rodale. 2004. (June 18, 2012) http://books.google.com/books?id=AaL71xZCZ70C&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Lee, John R. and Hopkins, Virginia. "FAQs about Progesterone Cream." JohnLeeMD.com. (June 18, 2012) http://www.johnleemd.com/store/faqs_progest_crm.html
- MayoClinic. "Female Infertility – Causes." Sept. 9, 2011. (June 18, 2012) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/female-infertility/DS01053/DSECTION=causes
- MSN. "Progesterone." Dec. 15, 2010. (June 18, 2012) http://health.msn.com/medications/progesterone
- Project AWARE. "About Progesterone." Sept. 2002. (June 18, 2012) http://www.project-aware.org/Managing/Hrt/progesterone.shtml
- WebMD. "Progesterone." May 18, 2011. (June 18, 2012) http://women.webmd.com/progesterone-15286
- WebMD. "Wild Yam and Progesterone Creams – Topic Overview." May 4, 2010. (June 18, 2012) http://www.webmd.com/menopause/tc/menopause-wild-yam-and-progesterone-creams-topic-overview
- Weil, Andrew. "What are the benefits of natural progesterone creams?" DrWeil.com. Jan. 21, 2002. (June 18, 2012) http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/QAA36021